Laura Reuss has been initiated into a select group. She’s a pizzaiola, a certified Neapolitan-style pizza-maker, according to the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. “It was kind of like learning a religion,” she says. “This is something that’s been going on for over 400 years. They are very serious about it.”
Reuss, who co-owns White Duck Taco Shop with her husband, Ben Mixson, will use time-tested, Neapolitan techniques in sauce, dough and cheese-making at their new restaurant, Pizza Pura. The River Arts District eatery opens Thursday, April 4, with a small, focused menu of salads, thin-crust pizzas from a wood-fire oven and homemade gelato.
At White Duck, Ben and Reuss have focused on volume. On very busy days, they serve lunch to more than 300 people. But at Pizza Pura, they’re hoping for a slower pace, which they’ll accomplish by offering multiple courses and table service. “I personally missed making fine food, and I wanted to do it again,” Reuss says. “High volume is great and fun. I like to go eat four or five tacos and taste different flavors, but I also really appreciate hard work and the time it takes to build wonderful pizza.”
The restaurant will remain small because of the demands of the dough, which is made from Italian flour and prepared to the specifications of the VPN. It comes together in an Italian mixer and ferments for a time before it’s hand-shaped into pizzas and baked in a wood-fire oven at 900 degrees for just under a minute and a half.
In its early days, Pizza Pura will serve lunch from 11:30 until the dough runs out. “We’ll do as many doughs as we possibly can, but our fermentation time is written in stone, so we won’t serve anything that’s not ready,” Reuss says. “We hope to get to dinner, but it depends on our dough production.”
The soft, chewy crust comes topped with a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, house-made mozzarella and an array of olives, fresh herbs and cured meats. “Everything’s imported,” Reuss says. “We’re going to do it as authentic to Naples in Asheville as we possibly can.”
She acknowledges that using imported ingredients is a bold move in a time when diners are focused on local products. But even though her flour, tomatoes and Parmigiano Reggiano come from across the sea, she still knows exactly who’s producing them and where. Plus, she adds, it’s fun to taste ingredients from other locales. “Sometimes you like to have the feeling of being taken somewhere else, transported,” she says.
In keeping with the true Italian pizza experience, Pizza Pura serves its pies unsliced. A pizza cutter comes on the side. The pies are about 12 inches in diameter, and because the crust is thin, they’re sized for a single person. Diners can dig in with fork and knife or fold the pizza and eat it like a single slice. “If you fold it in half, it’s called libretto,” Reuss says. “People eat it like a half pie. That’s how they walk and eat.”
Pizza Pura, 342 Depot St., opens for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. until the dough runs out. Pizzas range from $10 -12. For more information, visit pizzapura.com.